Travel gear: Undergarments for light packing

Wanting to pack light and therefore prioritizing efficiency on the road? Then I’m just going to start with this.

Underwear: bring lace.

The differences between solid cotton and travel tech and lace undergarments became apparent to me while working in humid east Thailand for two months during the rainy season. While my hair and skin were probably never happier, do you know what wasn’t so thrilled with the moisture? My wardrobe.

Our dormitory of student teachers helped the local economy by sending our laundry out to be professionally washed every week. Heavy, hand washed ‘professional’ clothes just weren’t ever going to feel un-damp if we resorted to the dorm-room sinks . However, I did decide to keep my underwear myself for handwashing and you know what dried the quickest and escaped the two month teaching practicum free of mustiness?

The lace based stuff of course.

The quick-dry fabric did ok too, but the speed at which the lace dried astounded me. And I wondered, why haven’t I seen any talk about this as a travel fabric option??

Since then, I’ve primarily traveled with lace and here’s why:

Wear-ability: Lace is mostly air so it’s light and breathable for packing and wearing. In humid, hot environments like the Japanese bamboo forest  I was hiking around in Kyoto prefecture in early July one summer, nothing was staying dry on anyone, man or woman. What was nice about that afternoon at least was how airy I knew my undergarments were keeping,  even if my dress had become a wet towel against my skin and I could have rung out my ponytail.(

Dry-ability: Lace dries more quickly from a dunk in the bathroom sink  than other materials, including (in my humble opinion) solid quick-dry tech fabrics. Whether it’s the dorm room in Ubon, Thailand during summer or the hotel bathroom on a cold October day in Paris, France the lace options have always dried impressively faster than my other options.

Comfort-ability: Worried about the idea of putting on itchy or restrictive undergarments while on the road? Don’t be! Lots of brands make lacy underthings that are completely functional and comfortable (with plenty ‘o spandex to make ’em stretchy).

Invisibility: Worried about having underwear lines show up under your clothes because, gasp, to exist in polite society you must pretend you are an empty column of air under there? Fear not. There are many ‘smooth’ or ‘line-free’ options for lacy underthings (see thong or boyshort styles) that will not wreck the marble facade we strive for and can be found in several variations of nude *. See brand suggestions next. 

Brand suggestions: Top of the line expensive/comfortable option is Hanky Panky, which comes in many shapes and styles. They’re best known for their one-size-fits-all thongs that will not contribute underwear lines to your profile while in short-shorts. Or (if you’re U.S. based) check out your grandmother’s workhorse brand, Wacoal, which has some stylish/comfortable options offered by size (if you’re based elsewhere, I know Wacoal has slightly different branding and you may not find the lace-only design you’re looking for). Additionally, Chantelle is a French brand that also loves its lace and usually has many options for lace-based bra cups – Hooray for options! And if those three brands are too expensive without an employee discount or clearance price (I hear ya), go to the nearest department store, buy a variety of lacy underthings at your price point (go ahead, stretch ’em out between your hands to see how much give they have before you purchase), and do your research one day at a time before your trip.

Bras: As you may have figured out, my lace advice goes for your bras too. If you normally wear bras and want to travel with them you may face some challenges when packing:

  1. Molded cups (lingerie lingo for the sort of solid shaped cups made of a foamy material that creates a smooth, sculpted appearance under a thin t-shirt) run the risk of being smashed and wrinkled and, therefore, ruined (read dramatically as  “roooooooinND”) when packed.**
  2. Options exist for keeping bras nicely shaped while you travel, but these hard-shelled holders will take up a lot of space if you’re trying to travel as minimally as possible.
  3. Hand-washing your bras probably isn’t the challenge as you should already be hand-washing to preserve the integrity of the material, but getting them to dry in time while traveling could be a days-long activity with the thicker contoured cup material. (Case in point, my roommate in Thailand who hung her molded-cup bras outside to dry and had to leave them there long enough that some kind soul brought them into their own apartment to protect them from the oncoming rain.)

So, my suggestion to you for travel is to find a bra you like with lace cups or if not lace then just the soft stretchy cups (i.e. no contour or extra padding). I agree they don’t always meet the ‘t-shirt’ bra ideal many wearers hope for when trying not to nip out, and that’s an important consideration for local cultural expectations or your own comfort. But I’m here to tell you that lacy bras can offer support and coverage that fits your individual shape. It all comes down to the shape and fit of the cup. Which leads me to…

Professional help: While we’re discussing bras, my advice is to make an appointment for a lingerie fitting at the nearest department store within your budget. Explain your needs for travel and that you’d like a mostly soft/lace cup that won’t get ruined (roooooooinND!) when it gets smashed into your luggage. And then prepare to be measured, fit, and prodded in a teeny-tiny dressing room.

Feeling a little shy about the whole bra-fitting experience? Take what I’m about to say to heart: If that sales person doesn’t take every possible step to make you feel comfortable, respected, and to keep your body feeling unjudged, leave immediately and don’t feel bad not buying anything. A fitting room in the lingerie department can take on the qualities of a confessional at times and so the sales associates had better be compassionate people who have cultivated the best customer service/human being skills to deal with all sorts of anxieties and motivations for getting new underwear in front of an all-seeing mirror in a tiny box of a room with a stranger. – Whew, time for me to take another breath. – Now, go with God.

Forget everything I said about lace (just for a minute)

If you’re a guy and struggling to find lacy underwear after reading my advice, then I guess quick-dry tech fabrics are your answer. I’d recommend the ExOfficio brand (they’ve got underwear marketed for women too). My husband and another male friend swear by them: “Like wearing butter, but without the mess” (paraphrased). I’ve worn the options marketed for women and the boyshorts are a nice addition to the travel wardrobe, even though I don’t love them as much as lace.

Another lace alternative for your travel pack is mesh (and I mean the micro-hole-constructed material, not the fake cross-hatched stretchy fabric mimicking mesh). In fact, some underwear billing itself as lace might just be mesh. Very tricky of them, but essentially the same idea. “Mesh” may just be the market term for “lace for men” or “sporty lace.”

Cleanliness on the road: Bras and underwear are an investment, and you’ll probably be wearing them a lot more often than your other clothes. Hand washing is the best practice, and having a minimum of two bras is smart as it allows the material a day of rest, which improves their performance and longevity.

When you’re at home and washing your underthings, take care to use gentle detergent. However, when you’re on the road, I strive to be as low maintenance as possible. It is A-Ok to wash your underwear with the hotel hand soap, shampoo, or your own precious hard soap that you brought with you. If you must wash your bras, remember to do whatever you can to be gentle with formed cups and lay them flat to dry to keep the shape. Some people have told me they bring a cord with them to hang over the tub and allow their underwear to dry more quickly. I think this is a great idea but I’ve never been this organized before a trip. A shower rod in a hotel bathroom or laying them out on a towel on your bed works just fine –

And why is that?

…..because LACE! That airy, micro-hole filled wonder material.

What did I miss when talking about underwear on the road? Storage? Packing tips? Other brands? Please let me know.

*Side note: struggling to find your “nude” color in an underwear? The following aren’t examples of lace underwear sadly  :”'( , but Naja offers more than just beige for “nude” skin tone options. Hooray!

**Alternatives to lace bras if you aren’t interested in the hassle of bringing your standard bras with you and can’t be persuaded to wear lace, I know plenty of travelers who happen to travel with just a sports bra or some thin, wire-free cotton ones. To that effect, I’ve never seen a sports bra made of lace, so I still have to include a thin, quick dry, unpadded sports bra in my own pack.

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